It’s documentaries like this that illustrate to me how much I have grown as a film buff, and one interested in political subjects as well.
Opening today at the Lightbox, as well as other select theatres worldwide, is this fantastic documentary about the 10 televised debates between socialite and conservative media man, William F. Buckley and liberal novelist, Gore Vidal.
Just putting those two names in the same sentence, you know there are going to be sparks. And there were….
The year is 1968.
As the song goes, the times were a changin’, and America seemed to be in an uproar, filled with culture clashes and trouble, with an election on the horizon. And with elections, come the inevitable, political conventions, each of them, being covered in their own way by the big three broadcasters, NBC, CBS, and the flagging ABC.
ABC decided to host a series of debates to help secure their floundering ratings, and reached out to Buckley to represent and comment on behalf of the Republican base, and then they went out and brought on the only man he completely detested to speak for the Democratic side of things, Gore Vidal.
Both men were brilliant, sharp and erudite, and were complete opposites on the political spectrum, insuring what ABC hoped would be a powerful series of debates, 5 focussing on the Republicans and 5 on the Democrats. What they got, they did not expect.But what they got was amazing.
For 10 nights, the pair faced off against one another on the struggling ABC and its affiliates, Buckley went in with the intention of debating the politics, but Vidal did his research not only on the party but on Buckley, and went after him. The sparring match, wonderfully kept in context by directors Gordon and Neville, changed the face of news, and the way it’s debated on-screen.
From the first bell, these two went after one another,until after 10 rounds, a vitual boxing match with words as jabs, Vidal triumphed over Buckley, but neithe of them were able to let the moment go, revisiting it for years as they bickered and fought back and forth in magazines, court, and press conferences.
Featuring archive footage from the debates, and interviews, as well as readings by John Lithgow (reading Vidal) and Kelsey Grammar (reading Buckley) this documentary is electric, engaging and enthralling.
The film examines two brilliant men on both sides of the political line, and how they forever shaped news coverage, politics and the world at large. It remained an event that marked them both, whether for good or bad, shaping them as much as it did the rest of the world, and elevated debate to a higher level than we have seen in some time, even when they were sniping at one another.
A fascinating documentary, Best of Enemies opens today!